Why Palestinians Still Live in Refugee Camps

Why do Palestinians in Gaza still live in refugee camps? Did the Israelis force Palestinians to stay in the squalid, overcrowded camps?

Palestinians still live in refugee camps, even when the camps are in Palestinian Authority controlled areas, because the PLO prevents refugee resettlement. The PLO slogan says “A Palestinian refugee never moves out of his camp except to return home [to Israel].”

Israel has tried to move Palestinians out of the camps and into new homes. Israel even started a heavily subsidized “build-your-own-home” program for Palestinian refugees. The old homes in the refugee camps were taken down to create some open space so that the camps themselves could be rebuilt as new neighborhoods for the refugees.

The United Nations opposed the program and passed harsh resolutions demanding that Israel remove the Palestinians from their new homes and return them to the camps.

The PLO threatened to kill any refugee who would move out of the camps. After a few such attacks, the build-your-own-home program ended.

How does the UN define just who qualifies as a Palestinian refugee? And are the UN’s figures for the number of Palestinian refugees accurate?

The UN’s figures are inaccurate because of its definition of who qualifies as a Palestinian refugee. UNRWA’s definition includes the descendants of persons who became refugees in 1948. The number of registered Palestine refugees has subsequently grown from 914,000 in 1950 to more than four million in 2002, and continues to rise due to natural population growth.

The UN definition contradicts international law, which states that descendants of refugees are not considered to be refugees. The UN claims that the usual refugee conventions do not apply to people receiving aid from UNRWA. (Only Palestinians receive aid from UNRWA.)

Are the UN figures for the number of Palestinian refugees accurate?

No, as the UN itself has admitted in the Report of the Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East – 1 July 1997 – 30 June 1998.

The refugee figures are based on “voluntarily supplied” information given for the purpose of obtaining services, such as financial aid and food rations. There is obvious incentive for people to falsely claim to be refugees to get services to which they are not entitled.

Deaths of refugees are not reported since the rations for the deceased would be discontinued.

The results are predictable: sacks of rice and flour with the UNRWA logo are resold everyday by merchants in Arab marketplaces.

Do most of Gaza’s residents live in refugee camps?

The short answer is no. Of the 1,275,000 residents of the Gaza Strip, the UN considers 961,645 to be refugees, but of these only 471,555 live in refugee camps.

Is Gaza “the most densely populated place in the world”?

No. Many places in the world, both rich and desperately poor, are more densely populated than Gaza. Some examples include Washington, D.C., Hong Kong, Calcutta, and Cairo.

Source: Why Palestinians Still Live in Refugee Camps

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